Non-combat Travel Encounters: Stone Cairne
Stone Cairne - a pile of stones is spotted along the side of the road. Roll for its contents and origin. Roll 1d10.
1 - Burial cairne. A corpse was buried under this pile of stones. A fresh corpse may indicate bandits are nearby, or indicate a mysterious murder. An older corpse may bear treasure, or rise an attack as an Undead creature of the appropriate level.
2 - Traveler's Shrine - The cairn is an offering, usually to a god associated with travel or protection. Stones are carried from place to place and added to cairns by wandering pilgrims. Adding a stone to the cairn if one has been carried from your previous destination may grant a blessing (Inspiration). Removing stones or destroying the cairne may incur Misfortune (disadvantage on a roll of the DM's choice, preferably in an appropriate situation) or summon the shrine's guardian. Stones may have messages or prayers carved or scratched into them, and odd or rare stones are sometimes found among the cache.
3 - Food Cache - Some large semi-intelligent creatures (ogres, hill giants, various beasts and magical beasts) will create food caches by taking recent kills and covering them in rocks, preferably in cool locations. The cairne stinks of rotting meat, and a few minutes of excavation could turn up anything from a deer carcass to a piece of a human leg. A few scavengers might be around, and disturbing the cairn may arouse a hunt for the offender once discovered.
4 - Equipment Cache - Barbarian tribes, merchant caravan companies, local rangers, explorers, and bandits all sometimes store extra survival equipment in cairns from time to time in case of emergency or accident. These are found at designated rally points or landmarks throughout their territory or else alongside well traveled roads and paths. Expect to find one or more Explorer's Packs, plus the possibility of a tent, extra rations, or even a map of the area. It is considered good manners to use such a cache only when needed and to notify its owner that it was depleted- preferably with payment in full- and the people that left it may not take kindly to encountering their emergency gear in the hands of thieves.
5 - Flint Tools - A local stone-age humanoid tribe (some orcs, goblins, and barbarians, bullywugs, lizard folk, etc.) uses this outcropping of native stone as a source for arrow heads, fish hooks, knife and axe blades, and other necessities. Players may be able to fashion equipment using tool proficiencies or Survival at the DM's option. The cairn itself is made up of discarded flakes and partially crafted tools that were discarded when flaws in the stone were discovered.
6 - Earth Shrine - Similar to a Traveler's Shrine, but dedicated either to a god with the Earth domain or to the element of Earth itself. Making an offering at the shine gives Inspiration that can be used to cast earth-related spells or to attack Air elementals. Disturbing or defacing the shrine may summon a guardian elemental or Outsider.
7 - Broken Colossus - The pile of stones is actually the remains of a gigantic stone creature- maybe a stone golem or earth elemental. Detect Magic reveals faint elemental magic or enchantment on all the stones as appropriate. They have no mechanical properties in and of themselves, but they may be prized by alchemists, golem builders, or other collectors or useful in as a reagent for magical contructs. The remains could be the result of an ancient battle, or a recent creation.
8 - Gizzard Stones - The stones are all very smooth, as though they have been sitting in water. In fact they are gizzard stones disgorged by a giant bird (like a Roc or Giant Eagle) or some other flying monster that tends to swallow its prey whole (could include Dragons and Wyverns). The stones make great sling bullets (though they do smell a little like rotting meat), and indicate that something liely keeps a hunting ground nearby.